The following comments are from English teachers who have taught, or are currently teaching English in India.
India is a country with a mixed population of different languages. In northern India, the common language is Hindi and in southern India, there are four different languages, Tamil in Tamilnadu, Telegu in Andhrapradesh, Malayalam in Kerala and Kannada in Karnataka. English is the common language for communication in India. The northern Indian food practice is somewhat different from southern India with wheat being the primary food item in the north, and rice in the south. Regarding culture and customs, dress code is very important to foreigners in India, especially female foreigners. You should wear long pants with shirts (half sleeve).
Consumption of alcohol is not a social practice here and females don’t drink and also don’t smoke. You may come across men in intoxicated conditions in streets and roads, but in general, alcohol is not approved of as a social practice.
I’ve worked in two English colleges in India, primarily teaching IELTS. My first experience was in the state of Gujarat. All foreign staff (approx. 8 people from as far apart as the USA, Australia, Hungary and Estonia) were fired over the course of about ten months, for absolutely ridiculous reasons. This is mostly because there is such a gross misunderstanding between the two cultures (east vs west) and some fairly archaic management practices from the female boss.
My work contract comprised of a 6-day work week, which they explained was due to the very large number of religious holy days and public holidays… however, each time one came around, the school would still open, and we were still expected to teach.. despite being told otherwise. This made a huge difference to our experience because it meant going on weekend trips and exploring the state became impossible.
My advice is to keep things simple. If they offer you a “package” including a furnished apartment, I would be more inclined to try to negotiate finding your own housing, with additional pay. This way you can try to keep ’employers’ out of your personal life, which I found they loved to pry and keep close control over.
Overall, i have a terrible time with my employers, but having said all of this though, I absolutely loved my students, and still remain in contact with some of them to this day. They were very animated and passionate about so many of the topics discussed, well most days, more like argued… a wonderful experience. Very hot. Humid. Wet season flash floods, great community of people.
Beware if you are female as you may be followed and attacked before you know it. I also know from my experience of having many close friends in the community that alcohol abuse is rampant (always the way when it is illegal) and that gang rapes still, unfortunately occurs.
My second experience was a lot more benign, in southern India in Bangalore; a much more cosmopolitan city, where foreigners are much more welcome, with approx. 30,000 expats living there -so at least you won’t stand out so much as in Gujarat.
The school I taught at was in was a very small Christian school. Most students were nurses from Kerala, seeking to work in the UK in nursing homes… I found the students to be overly polite. Teaching was expected to be delivered from a pulpit and getting students to speak and interact was like pulling teeth. (obviously used to being lectured about English than producing it themselves). My role was to solely teach “speaking”. Even my best tricks hardly worked.. and to be honest, I quickly got bored. A very friendly reception from the principal’s family, who resided at the school – where I also stayed.
Advice: don’t rely on earnings to live and spend comfortably.
I would say in summary, that unless you are really passionate about teaching in India, I would much prefer to just travel around. I think the one benefit of teaching is that you get to stay at a place long term and meet and interact with locals that you otherwise couldn’t do whilst backpacking around. But having said that, getting to know a people on such a personal level was also laden with problems.
India is the world’s most multi-cultural country in the world. India, to many, conjures a single entity but in reality India is diverse in language, food, clothes and climatic conditions. Teaching here, then, is a multi cultural, multi religious, multi language experience and can be very challenging. This is urban India. Rural India has its own challenges. Realising that learning English makes all the difference and that the only way to bridge the economic gap is to learn English, many state governments have introduced English at level/class one. It would be my pleasure to answer questions/queries on India and for those of you who would like to come here and be a part of the movement of taking English to the villages – please do keep in touch (email@example.com).
Ms Mary, I wonder if the “drinking” part of the mail is real today. In Bangalore, women drink and I wonder how many of us stand in awe or shock. Anonymous’s post is very worrying too because it paints this country in an absolute terrible state. It is experiences like these that bring such shame to India. The reality is, much of their knowledge of the West comes from movies and they assume it is easy to have a relationship or casual relationship with foreigners than say with Indians and thus they become prey to letching men. In fact, one of the main focus when I do cross culture is to tell boys :noooo…….that’s not the way it is… they never believed me!!
Every country has good and bad characters. I can’t agree with the remarks of Anonymous. It may be true. There may be rapes, gangrapes also. Who can say… our country isn’t perfect. There are no rapes/gangrapes reported in this country… That is happening everywhere in this world. I’ve visited many countries. Out of these countries, I cannot blame India only for this reason. Bombay (Maharastra State of India) is a cosmopolitan city. There we can see ‘Red Streets’ (licensed brothel). Long ago it was the paradise for job-seekers. They were living alone since the accommodation was very costly and they can’t live with family with their income. So to do the biological needs they were visiting Red Streets. I’ve not read any rapes reported in the newspapers in 1970s. See the culture of UK and other countries. After the age of 18, they live with their partners for months or years. Sometimes they will marry with their partner. We can see single parents everywhere in UK. Since the marriages are arranged by parents in India, there is strength for family relations.
Proficiency should be the ultimate goal when learning English for many Asians. Grammar is important of course, but Asian students who accomplished A’s in English papers (grammar based, mainly in secondary) have turned out to be very poor when it comes to simple, daily, conversational English.
I have been to India at least 10-15 times and to several cities. To respond to “Anonymous”: I would really like to teach in India. Unfortunately, through my university studies in US and meeting people in India, I have come to realize that people in India really would rather not interact much with people who look like / sound / act like foreigners. However, if you look / sound / act Indian, then you are home-free. This can depend where in India you are, but for the most part, this is true. So I would say that if you really want to teach people there how to speak English, you should probably try to learn at least Hindi or if you are going to the south, you may need to try to pick up the local language (Tamil, Telegu, Kannada, Konkini, etc) before you start teaching English. This way, the students will often open up to you more quickly, and you can focus on teaching rather than trying to focus on how to get them to speak in English, a language that they may rarely speak in. You mentioned your “employer” prying into your private life. See, this I have to respond to. I realize where you are coming from…In US, if you are sent to a foreign country and given an apartment, or you work in India for a US corporation, employers will pretty much stay out of your home life. But in India, people are very social. It is very normal for employers and employees to associate with each other socially. Also, your employers may have viewed what they were doing as “hospitality” rather than “prying”. Part of your experience was in the state of Gujarat. There is a ban on alcohol there, but of course, alcohol is plentiful in the state. But the ban goes like this….It is illegal for locals to have / purchase / drink alcohol. However, it is perfectly LEGAL for foreigners to have / purchase / drink alcohol. So what happens? Many families have family members living abroad. The people living abroad bring it into the house in Gujarat. And because that person is a foreigner, it is perfectly legal. I do not drink myself, and do not advocate it, but the ban is not the way to go about discouraging it either.
I wonder who told you that the brothels in what is known as the red light district of Mumbai are licensed. The brothels are actually illegal. The fact that the police are complicit in allowing them to run does not suddenly make them legal. The police are simply paid by the brothels so that the police do not shut down the brothels. As for rapes, I have read about rapes recently. I don’t know about the 1970s as I was not born until several years later. But aside from that, one rape I heard about was actually committed by a police officer. He took a girl inside a booth on the road, closed the door of the (what is known in India as a police “chowky”) and raped her. Mumbai is a very large city, and in India especially — just because an FIR (First Information Report) is not filed does not mean that the incident never happened. It just means that it wasn’t reported. People are more afraid of the tax man than the police. But people don’t often report cases to the police because some of the police are criminals or have been bribed by criminals to do criminal deeds. That said, if you find corruption in the police force, there are phone hotlines you can call, and some honest court judges you can report to in order to have something done. Justice in India comes very slowly, if at all, but if no one steps up to the plate, then nothing will happen.
Working in India is a life enriching experience in itself. Most of the foreigners who work in India should get acquainted with our culture. If I look for a job in another country it becomes my duty to know and understand more about its culture. The bottom line is that we respect our teachers more than any other country. Traditionally, the teacher student relationship is that of respect and nothing else. Teachers coming from outside need to understand that the element of friendship with a student should be kept to a minimum. I am not saying that fear rules. What I am trying to say here is that respect is the key element.
I completely agree with the descriptions of Mary and Anonymous. I don’t really understand some of the naysaying responses? They seem to pick up on a single element of Anonymous’ post and respond as if that single element were the entire or the main focus. Anonymous did not suggest that she tried to be the students’ friend – but that she tried to move beyond pure lecture / theory into “actually using” the skill being taught. As a trainer here in India, I have had the same problem not only with trainees but with training trainers. It has been a struggle to inculcate the idea of “actually have the learners do it”! Don’t just ‘talk’ about the skill.
As for the prying – Yes that’s exactly what they were doing. Not helping. Helping focuses on the wants of the recipient. Prying is a way of establishing control and thereby rank. And like the rest of Asia – India is a highly stratified society. Those in power insist that their status be recognized. Because foreigners come from a place where the power behaviours are different, Indians may force recognition in these subtle ways. You are NOT imagining things if you see your treatment this way.
To women. Each state will be different. The north will generally be more dangerous for you then the south. Either way double cover your cleavage. That means a shirt and a scarf. It’s not right, but your life will be better.
Anonymous 6 February 2011
I have to say that my experiences here in India for the past ten months coincide completely with the descriptions of Anonymous. But having said that, there are big differences between schools in cities and the rural countryside. And most educated Indians know their country’s wilds only from excursions. They rarely lived there. The cities have excellent teachers equipped with modern teaching techniques. They understand that a person/child who feels at ease makes a better learner. Friendliness and encouragement doesn’t mean to reduce academic standards. In the countryside, especially the backwaters of India things are different. Half of the teachers I work with do not have the qualifications or knowledge needed to be a waiter in a good Indian hotel.
Their one and only dexterity lies in wielding the rod. Their general knowledge is close to zero. i.e Fifth class teachers cannot handle simple Math like fractions. To beat up or just hurt a child that doesn’t even reach your waist is maybe what constitutes “respect!” It took me months to establish “different” rules in my classes. i.e. no hitting, no pushing etc. I feel perfectly respected by the kids, they flock to my classes. But as a woman I realize I am a challenge to every male teacher. Women however tend to at least try new methods and once they realize that their students’ progress faster they tend to change. And yes they pry. I believe that this has to do with what we bring and have with us.
Teachers here earn an average of Rs 1.500 – 2.500 in private and Rs 12.000 in public schools. An Indian book costs around Rs. 300 so buying some five or six books a month, or having a laptop or having a good facial cream let’s say from Clinique (Rs 4.000) creates an envious curiosity even if you do everything not to brag and seem as humble as possible. I have learned to act as Indians do. I am polite but I do not answer private questions anymore. I don’t share what, when and how I am doing things.
I have split accommodation from work and pay my own rent. And yes it infuriates my to see a cocky young headmaster whom a little exercise would do well, ring a bell to have the sweeper lady run through half the school to then hand her papers that he wants to be placed on the table next to him. But for lack of other qualifications he grows two of his fingernails to a disgusting length to show the world that he is not doing manual work. Well he’s not doing mental work either. So my personal private restricted view is that if what is generally called “respect” comes from being physically stronger, so be it. I think it rather comes from being responsibly taking on ownership, being a role model and being trustworthy in one’s character and abilities. Well a very personal view which definitely hasn’t reached these parts yet.
I wonder if I misunderstood the comment in Nick’s advice… “and you can focus on teaching rather than trying to focus on how to get them to speak in English, a language that they may rarely speak in…” Isn’t TEFL teaching all about “using” the language. Activate stage? Keeping TTT to the absolute necessary? Please explain as I might have gotten it all wrong.
My husband and I have been going to India for the past 4 years to teach conversational English in a large rural girls school. We enjoy the Indian people and being in India. We feel as if it’s our second home. We are volunteers. I feel very strongly that we should respect the Indian peoples’ way of life, not necessarily agree with it. Change in India is coming slowly. I don’t feel like we should be critical of the Indian lifestyle even though we do not agree. As teachers we are, slowly, causing changes which will help to improve the life of those we teach and their families.
After reading everyone’s comments, I’m quite taken back. I’m from the UK, my husband is Indian and I lived in India for 2 and a half years and about to return to live permanently.
It appears to me that the people who have commented on here are very mono-cultured and seem to display a little of that old colonialist attitude. If you’re going to go and live and work in another country, you have to change and adapt. The main reason why India is still developing is an obvious one, only becoming India in 1950 and we all know why, don’t we?
Anyone who is thinking of going and working in India, or any other country of the world, go with an open, global mind-set and you’ll enjoy it.
I can write horror stories about everywhere I’ve traveled or lived in the world, particularly the UK, but that is not what this comment board is about. It isn’t helpful and it is very undermining and offensive.
Teaching ESL in India is a fantastic experience which is why I’m going back to India to live. There are different avenues you can go down :
1. Teaching English as a volunteer in schools in rural India : Very very rewarding.
2. Teaching English in urban India – Great facilities and a great salary. These schools only take the best teachers, very competitive.
3. Training staff in ‘Voice and Accent’ courses in call centers : easily found positions on monster.co.in / indeed.co.in but be prepared to do US/ UK time shifts
4. Working for an ESL school teaching in companies around cities, mainly Business English.
You can’t generalize anyone culture, that’s silly and prejudice. Every culture and country have their problems and people tend to like to have a bash at countries they don’t understand because they’re not like theirs.
It’s a brilliant experience, go for it!
Interesting seeing the other comments written here. I notice that several of them are a few years old so could now be taken with a grain of sand?
I’ve just returned from an extraordinary 6 mths teaching in a small school in Faridabad. The school is Christian and run by a very strict Christian woman and her husband, a Pastor, who is a lot more open. There were some cultural issues that I struggled with; coming to a small school like this with western ideas and a western approach actually clashed with the woman running the school and how she operated. Mea Culpa, I quickly learned where I had gone wrong but it didn’t detract from the teaching experience.
Indian children take a huge delight in almost anything they were presented with. This was a slum school so their view of the world was very limited and it did make teaching a challenge when they had no concept of catching a train, riding in a car, going shopping or even what a hill was (Jack & Jill fell flat!).
The Indian education system also is not structured to allow free thinking and use of imaginations although towards the end of my time some of the boys started to branch out a bit and began to open up when ideas were called for. English (particularly) is taught by rote and the “W” words, what, why, when, who, would leave even the strongest child gasping in fear when I started a sentence with them.
It was an experience I will never forget and I am keen to get back to India as soon as possible and continue the experience on a more permanent basis.